Oklahoma native Parker Millsap at just 20 is, frankly, the real deal. Raised in the Pentecostal church by parents with a love of blues and country music this release is a sparse, desolate piece of work that owes much to his personal history and Oklahoma itself.
The first thing you notice about the album is the voice. Millsap is young but his voice seems fully formed, a little gravelly but with range and versatility. The voice suits the songs perfectly, if he gets ragged it’s because ragged is required. The other striking aspect is the instrumentation, it’s sparse, very sparse, an acoustic guitar, upright bass a little percussion with the occasional steel guitar and fiddle as and when required. Is that a muted trumpet on album opener ‘Old Time Religion’? This gives the album the feeling of age. It sounds old but ageless, traditional yet of its time.
At the end of the day it’s about the songs. Luckily Millsap has songs to spare. The aforementioned ‘Old Time Religion’ sets the scene as the protagonist ‘makes his decisions down on his knees’. While on ‘Forgive Me’ a young man questions his faith and the dark, strident, ‘Quite Contrary’ has fairy tale characters heavily involved in the drug trade. The arrangements and sparse instrumentation do give an overall feeling of melancholy, ‘The Villian’is a thing of aching beauty. Not to say it’s all doom and gloom as the clever lyrics are able to paint some light relief on the gentle shuffle ‘Disappear’ when a couple plan to, or more likely, yearn to relocate ‘Leave your mothers china and all our original plans’ the husband advises.
I’ve picked out, what I consider, a few highlights but it’s all good here. I believe the album is getting a UK release on September 1st and then later in the year Parker Millsap is guesting on tour with Old Crow Medicine Show. Now that is a marriage made in heaven.
Update: Parker Millsap / Old Crow Medicine Show Live Review
Possibly the most shocking statistic I’ve come across in recent times is the following: It is estimated that 7400 current or former members of the United States Armed Services take their own lives annually. This is obviously not just a problem specific to the USA, here in the UK military personnel face the same challenges on active duty and when their tours end. SongwritingWith:Soldiers is a non-profit organisation, founded in 2012 by singer-songwriter Darden Smith, which pairs veterans and active duty military with songwriters to hopefully confirm the old idiom “A problem shared is a problem halved.” With this in mind Mary Gauthier’s ‘Rifles & Rosary Beads’ could well be the most important album you’ll hear this year.
Dane Joneshill and I have a few things in common: we both write songs and make records; we are both slightly ill-at-ease with social media; we’re the same age and we both know the simultaneous joy and pain of life as a domestic dad. Obviously, I shouldn’t let this sense of kinship colour what ought to be an objective appreciation of his debut album, Everything That Rises Must Converge, but it’s just possible it might.
I have recently taken up photography as a hobby, not digital, but on film. I am shunning “Auto” and taking time to compose each shot, being choosy about what I take, as the roll is not infinite. As such, each shot becomes treasured, even if it does not come out as expected. Bob Bradshaw’s new album, ‘American Echoes’, has the feeling of a treasured photo album crammed with fond memories and experiences. Indeed, Bradshaw started his journey in America, which has led to the content of ‘American Echoes’, way back in 1989. It is a product of the people, places and venues he has visited and the experiences he has had in his adopted homeland. It draws on classic American genres ranging from country and folk to bluegrass and the blues. The album is a celebration and a document of the dreamers, poets and sinners that he has met on his journey across the nation’s landscape.
Inventively named Canadian act The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer recently visited the UK to play a few shows. The name instantly gets your attention “The who’d a what now” was one version of the name I heard recently. It actually all makes perfect sense as Shawn Hall aka The Harpoonist plays harmonica (actually lots of harmonicas) and Matthew Rogers plays guitar hence The Axe Murderer. The guys were in London to support their latest release ‘Apocalipstick’ and played one of the most inventive and crowd-pleasing shows I’ve seen in quite some time. The duo, with Dawn Pemberton adding some impressively soulful vocals, really is a force of nature in a live setting. Explaining what they do doesn’t seem to do them any justice but I’ll give it a try.
Anyone who’s ever financed the recording of their own album will know that there are certain things that really ought to matter, and The Shopkeeper is a stark reminder of those things. People matter. Can you think of an app that can replicate the relationships between songwriter, musician, producer and engineer? Thought not. Places matter. Can you imagine The Beatles without Abbey Road? Nope, neither can I. Things matter. If you’re making an album, why wouldn’t you want to make it into a something you can hold in your hands? Musicians today find themselves in a world where people, places and things appear to all matter a little less than they once did and The Shopkeeper pushes us, ever so gently, to consider the consequences.
Carrie Elkin has a fascinating voice. Earnest, yet powerful, with a sense of longing to her vocal and a purity which adds gravity to her emotive lyrics. Legendary Radio 2 DJ Bob Harris has compared her spellbinding performance to Patty Griffin, Iris DeMent, and Nanci Griffith, no less. Her vocal style shares similarities with Sheryl Crow, Carole King, Karen Carpenter, Joan Armatrading and Marie Fredriksson of Roxette. There is also elements of First Aid Kit to be found here - albeit solo voice with male harmonies. Carrie’s debut album “Simplicity” was released in 1996 and she has never looked back. She received glowing reviews for her 2007 LP, “Jeopardy of Circumstance” and toured the UK and the US as well as recording on her partner, Danny Schmidt’s, albums. “Call It My Garden”, recorded for award winning folk label Red House Records in 2011, gained widespread acclaim and “For Keeps” followed in 2014. “Penny Collector” is a collection of songs which inhabits the musical realm of Americana/Roots, Folk and Indie Rock. It is her sixth solo album and arrives in the wake of much critical praise and admiration for her previous recordings.
If ever an album lived up to its title it must be ‘Transatlanticana’ which finds the “Titan of the Telecaster” Bill Kirchen recording an album with the “Godfather of Pub Rock” Austin De Lone. Needless to say the results are pretty amazing and the UK release via The Last Music Company / Proper Records features two bonus tracks.
As the lead singer from Men at Work, Colin Hay was the man who famously rhymed ‘language’ with ‘Vegemite sandwich’ on the hit song ‘Down Under’, way back in 1983. If that seems an odd thing to remember then please forgive me, I was six years old at the time; rhymes were almost as important to me as sandwich fillings and this one I hadn’t even heard of. Working as a solo artist since 1987, Hay has released a steady stream of well-received records and Fierce Mercy will be his thirteenth of that thirty-year period. It’s therefore no surprise that themes of age, memory and the passing of time course through the album. But far from being maudlin, Fierce Mercy is joyful, philosophical and full of life-affirming hope.
Souvenir is their tenth album in just twelve years (a fairly impressive work-rate by anyone’s standards) but Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors remain relatively unknown outside the United States. If you’re new to them and happen to like your American roots music passionate and delicate; strong and fragile; sweet and bitter all at once, then Souvenir is definitely, positively, absolutely going to be your bag.
Jim Lauderdale is one of the most respected artists working in the country / Americana field today. As a songwriter Lauderdale’s credits include some of the greats of the country genre and beyond (Blake Shelton, Lee Ann Womack, George Strait, Vince Gill, The Dixie Chicks and Elvis Costello) in a career that dates back to the 80’s. His latest solo release is a silky smooth slice of soulful country music that finds Lauderdale working in the UK with Nick Lowe’s band and a host of great players.
‘The Bad Testament’…there it is. Right in front of your eyes in the title to his latest album Scott H. Biram lays it out for all to see. Biram is on a mission to tell it like it is, take no prisoners and bring his testament to the people. It won’t be an easy ride, people who can’t handle a little profanity better look away now, or wait for the ‘Clean’ version, but I very much doubt that’ll be coming along anytime soon as Biram doesn’t strike me as someone who likes to compromise.
Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough’s first collaborations began some 6 years ago (first on DeMeyer’s 2011 release, Rose of Jericho and Savannah Road in 2014), while continuing to forge successful solo careers themselves. Brigitte DeMeyer’s work has received very favourable reviews comparing her blues-folk-rock to early Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow with the gutsiness of Little Feat’s initial outings. She has opened for Bob Dylan and toured with John Mayall. Similarly, Will Kimbrough’s solo and band work has been championed by critics both sides of the Atlantic with vocal, lyrical and style comparisons to John Lennon, Billy Joel, George Harrison and Neil Flynn to mention just a few. He has toured and collaborated with the likes of Todd Snider and Emmylou Harris. DeMeyer and Kimbrough’s career path together has seen them hone their song-crafting skills, showcasing their talents across North America and Europe. Based in Nashville, this is their first album as an official duo and brings their love of, and influences from blues, gospel, early jazz and country music together; “the good stuff” as Kimbrough calls it. DeMeyer characterises their seamless blend as acoustic soul.